Snippets from the life of Martha Sarah Ellis.
The photo below is of Martha Bartlett (who married Alfred Ellis) in London, England, daughter of Reuben Bartlett & Martha nee Moon. Martha Bartlett is also the mother Martha Sarah Ellis. Martha’s mother died at the age of 40 on 2nd September 1880, at home their home 245 St Georges Rd, Surrey, when Martha was 10.
|Photographer throught to be Richard Ellis, Mortuary Photograph of Martha Ellis nee Bartlett circa 2 September 1880, Lurline Marshall's private photo collection an identical copy also held in Sandra Williamson's private photo collection.|
The image of Martha’s mother has been handed down through the generations. The photo appears in two private photo collections, one collection belongs a descendant of Martha Sarah's sister, the other belongs to a descendant of Martha Sarah. The girls each must have been given a copy of the photo when they left England in 1889.
Recently I have looked very closely at the photograph and it began to dawn on me that I was looking at a Mortuary photo, an image of a dead person.
So how did I notice this?
First is was the eyes and how emphasised the pupils were and very black. Then I looked more closely at how her face was framed by her bonnet and the very large bow under her chin. Then there was the lack of decoration in the backdrop. There is something is a little off with the composition. The bonnet and the bow almost encircle her face. The bonnet is almost blurred in its detail and the earring in her left ear also sits funny as though pushed forward. The bow is stiff and does not wilt as one would expect.
So how did I discover that this cherished family heirloom was not what it seemed to be?
To examine the image more closely I blew it up and by doing so I have made the following observations
- The eyes – appear to have added to the photo
- The face seems to have been placed in the bonnet or somehow added and lacks the definition of the face
- On careful examination, you can also see the splice lines where the eyes have been superimposed over the original (probably closed) eyes.
Martha’s father was Alfred Ellis(b.1842) who was one of 13 children. Alfred’s younger brother was Richard, who eventually migrated to Malta with the Conroy family. In Malta, the Mr Conroy set up a photography studio, where Richard acted as an assistant until he opened his own studio nine years later. “Richard Ellis’ initial commissions entailed taking photos of corpses, as families at the time would want a photo of their dead relatives for a keepsake.”
I believe this is a mortuary photo of my 2nd great-grandmother taken after she died. Martha and her husband, Alfred, lived in London with their children, it is likely when Martha died in 1880 Alfred’s brother Richard created the mortuary photo as a keepsake for his brother. Richard was a well-respected photographer in Malta who would have had the skills for such a task. Alfred and his family were almost destitute at the time of Martha’s death and were using the surname of Lee, it would have been unlikely that Alfred would have been able to commission such fine work himself.
To Read more about Martha's life for articles previously posted for the A to Z Challenges click the Letters below:-
 England and Wales, death certificate for Martha Lee, died 2 September 1880; citing 1d/.534/79, September quarter 1880, Camberwell registration district, St George Camberwell in the County of Surrey sub-district; General Register Office, Southport.